February 29th, 2024

Paris Couture: Jennifer Lopez shimmies, Elie Saab shimmers, and Valentino’s Piccioli finds his mojo

By Thomas Adamson, The Associated Press on January 24, 2024.

Models wait backstage prior to the Franck Sorbier Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2024 collection presented in Paris, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) – As the Paris spring couture shows entered their third day, Jennifer Lopez ensured that the power of runway designs was matched by the power of a VIP audience. The singer and actress energized the Palais de Tokyo, arriving at the last minute for Elie Saab’s show amid pandemonium. She and other fashion insiders witnessed a silken display of the Lebanese designer’s work evoking the complexity of North African medinas.

Haute couture – the fashion industry’s ideas factory – is the age-old tradition of producing exorbitantly priced, made-to-measure garments for the world’s richest women.

Here are highlights of Wednesday’s displays – including Valentino, whose designer Pierpaolo Piccioli found his voice:

ARABESQUE MOTIFS OF SPRING

With an embellished floral cape and daring décolleté, Lopez marveled – and occasionally shimmied – from the Saab front row as vibrant beats accompanied the shimmering ode to Marrakech.

This season, Saab did not reinvent the wheel, nor did he intend to. This was classic couture – in sandstone tulle, sky-like lilac, blush cloud pink and dappled pastels – with arabesque motifs on golden foliage. Floor-sweeping chiffon and crepe gowns had a timeless feel, without a nod to seasonal trends.

Guests snapped photos as a giant blush full skirt in the shape of an upside-down tulip swept by, covered with hundreds of delicately embroidered three-dimensional flowers.

Elsewhere, the collection wove in playful elements like a fusion of traditional kimono techniques with the draped elegance found in classic Arab clothing.

As the grand finale gown made its entrance, the line between showstopper and spectacle blurred. The breathtaking bridal gown, with an embroidered train stretching meters long, captivated all. But in a telling sign of today’s couture landscape, it was uncertain whether the camera-wielding guests were more enthralled by the exquisite craftsmanship – or just Lopez’s reaction to it.

VALENTINO: PICCIOLI TRIUMPHS WITH LUXURIOUS WHIMSY

The masterful blend of subtle color blocking, whimsical elements, and – very slight – minimalism in Valentino’s Spring Couture marked a crowning moment for designer Pierpaolo Piccioli’s evolving vision of the storied house.

The dusk event, buzzing with excitement and attended by luminaries like Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Jenner, set to the haunting soprano of Madame Butterfly in the Place Vendome, marked a milestone in Piccioli’s journey of redefining Valentino’s classic couture.

Piccioli infused the collection in the gilded halls with a more disco-oriented vibe. He used silver embellished paillettes on capes and disco tops, which gleamed like river fish – and sparkled alongside the venue’s crystal chandeliers. Eye-popping color such as dazzling mustard and acid green amidst more conventional hues was a light color blocking underlining his penchant for ludic contrast.

Sublime touches, like diaphanous feathers, could easily have drifted into the realm of the old-school. Yet, Piccioli transformed them into spiky, textural fans, lending them a modern edge and subtle kink. That kink repeated as visible breasts, sheer lingerie, and a gold-baubled brown leather trench coat, reminiscent of luxury bondage gear.

It’s a difficult balancing act for Piccioli – or any designer leading a heritage house with such history as Valentino – to free himself of the creative shackles of the house codes, without throwing the maison’s spirit under the bus. This spring, Piccioli found his mojo.

VIKTOR & ROLF’S DARING DECONSTRUCTION

Dutch designers Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren again defied convention, presenting a couture concoction that blended historical periods with a daring, deconstructed edge.

A standout piece was a large black coat, anachronistically merging elements of the 1600s and 1900s. Its prominent Elizabethan-like collar brought an almost theatrical quality.

The collection ventured further into the realm of abstract deconstruction. The same black coat reappeared but this time transformed – sections snipped away, edges clawed off as if by a wild animal with a distaste for luxury. The aggressive alteration was symbolic, representing a rebellion against tradition and perhaps a commentary on the fleeting nature of fashion itself.

There were moments where the collection evoked the fearsome elegance of Maleficent with its dark, powerful aesthetic. Other pieces hinted at the tragedy of Miss Havisham from Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” particularly the gowns with panels burnt away to reveal gleaming black jeweled underlays. The garments, reminiscent of Havisham’s burnt wedding dress, seemed to speak of beauty marred by time and neglect, yet still enduring.

By slashing and deconstructing traditional designs, Viktor & Rolf infused them with a new vibrancy, challenging viewers to see clothes from a different perspective.

NAKAZATO’S “˜BLOOD WEDDING’

In a display that could be described as a theatrical “blood wedding,” Yuima Nakazato’s latest couture show intentionally left an eerie feeling. A model, a swan-like apparition, waded through a lake of blood-colored liquid, her diaphanous gown absorbing the vibrant hue and trailing a crimson path down the runway. This was high couture drama.

Nakazato, known for his boundary-pushing creativity, delved into the darker realms of fashion for spring. A model adorned with armor-like neck clasps, tears streaming from his eyes, sported a ruched devore gown that fused the high-priestly with a warrioresque Middle Earth aesthetic.

Ethereal silhouettes met sustainable innovation, with garments crafted from textile waste, embodying Nakazato’s commitment to eco-conscious fashion. Traditional Japanese techniques were evident in kimono-inspired draping.

Nature-inspired color palettes were often abandoned for darker hues, reflecting a mood of otherworldly charm. The showpiece – a coarse knit web-like top embellished with metal coins – echoed Nakazato’s flair for sculptural jewelry and other dramatic accessories. Paired with a deconstructed, paneled check jacket, it evoked samurai armor, a nod to both traditional craftsmanship and avant-garde aesthetics.

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